In August 2021, Poppy Roy was invited to Margent Farm by the SSAW Collective for a day filled with the wonders of the radical hemp plant and to learn more about Steve Barron’s mission.
When BAFTA and Emmy-nominated director and producer Steve Barron began to question what kind of world his granddaughter will be born into, he turned to biomaterials and the regenerative growing of hemp, as a hopeful solution to our ecological crisis.
After realising that in the face of environmental disaster our future generations won’t be left with an easy task, with top-soil degradation, biodiversity loss, plastic waste and carbon emissions damaging our ecosystem. Barron realised he was in the unique position to be proactive and by asking how he found himself purchasing a farm. The magical potential of the hemp plant was introduced by friend Fawnda Denham and in partnership with Cambridge University and Practice Architecture, Baron’s vision created an organic hemp farm and eco farmhouse.
Margent Farm is a trophy example of imagination, cultivating a sustainable way of being, which leads a green revolution in the construction industry.
In the beginning of August, the SSAW Collective invited Otherness to join them in Cambridgeshire for A View On Hemp, Fibre, Seed & Soil & Lunch at Margent Farm. The collective is a community of chefs, florists & growers all committed to a sustainable and ethical way of working, from food to flowers and farming. Hosted by Barron, guests feasted on an alfresco meal celebrating seasonal British produce grown by chef Lulu Cox and the SSAW team. The day was filled with the many botanical wonders of a hemp filled future. It was the first time the farm was open to the public and we enjoyed numerous talks and a tour by Steve Barron and Dr Darshil Shah, Assistant Professor in Material Science at Cambridge University.
Seeing a whole field of hemp is both surreal and a beautiful sight to see.
What once was an essential crop grown for its biomaterial, hemp has fallen victim to years of drug legislations, demonising this plant since the 1930s. The 53 acres of farmland is certified organic, deemed small-scale and aside from the family’s vegetable garden, grows solely industrial hemp for fibre and seed. Hemp, or Cannabis Sativa L, is not to be confused with the marijuana ‘drug’, it describes varieties of the plant with very low psychoactive THC compounds.
This plant is indigenous to Central Asia with evidence suggesting wild hemp work occurred 50,000 years ago. Quickly spreading worldwide due to its adaptability and the myriad of uses, once integral to the textiles industry, it was farmed for fibre to create materials for clothing, ropes and weapons. The value was believed so high, that it was mandatory to grow an acre of hemp, for every 60, during Henry VIII’s reign or heavy taxes would incur.
High yields grow quickly and 1 hectare of hemp can sequester 15 tonnes of carbon in just 100 days of growing. This is the equivalent of a return flight from the UK to New York and more effective than the same amount of trees.
The farmhouse and yoga shala at Margent Farm was designed by Practice Architecture and built using hemp solely from the farm’s first harvest. Ecologically sound hemp fibre cladding encases the exterior of the house, made using compressed hemp and farm bio-waste resin, whilst internal hemp and lime panels, coined hempcrete, created the internal structure. The materials and fabric of the building were developed by Cambridge University and Barron; all of which were erected in 24 hours in a prefab fashion. The atmosphere in the house is calming, the natural materials inviting a softness to the interior and it is remarkably beautiful.
Bought in 2016, Margent Farm is regenerative in design. Powered by off grid wind turbines and fuelled by the seasonal vegetable patch. Coined Margent after the margin borders created around the fields, that encourage biodiversity, many trees were also planted in the ancient practice of hedge laying. It is no wonder that Hemp caught Barron’s attention. Beyond the crop harvested, this fast growing plant has incredibly long roots that help to prevent soil erosion. Evidence suggests there are many benefits for soil health and microbial content. As the world witnesses a farming crisis in the degradation of our soil’s health, many believe that hemp should be grown as an antidote.
The plant even has the power to remove toxins and contaminants from the soil and was planted after Chernobyl to absorb the radiation poisoning.
Cannabis is a class B drug, yet contrary to this the UK is a large producer of medicinal cannabis. Widely known as CBD, the cannabidiol compound is non psychoactive and one of over 100 cannabis compounds found in hemp. With a licence it is legal to cultivate and possess the hemp plant, as long as no more than 0.2% of the psychoactive THC molecules are in the product. The British CBD market is currently valued at £300 million and predicted to triple by 2025. Demand for the medicinal properties has created a very lucrative market with high streets full of products, from lip balms to sanitary products.
Regardless of this societal shift, the recreational and medicinal uses have overshadowed the countless industries that hemp is viable for. In order to farm hemp for fibre and the pressing of seed for oil, one must apply for a controlled drugs domestic licence. This means that hemp is considered a narcotic or firearm and with strict regulations the home office is making it increasingly harder for people to farm it. UK farmers are often forced to burn 80% of their crop, ironic when our high streets are flooded with products containing CBD grown in Europe. In 2019, the organic hemp farm Hempen launched a campaign to overthrow the licence after they were forced to destroy 40 acres of beautiful organic hemp crop.
The farm is just one of 20 in the UK legally growing hemp, which collectively makes up 3,000 acres of the 23 million acres of farmland nationwide.
Fortunately for Barron, his current licence does permit the growing of industrial hemp for fibre and seed. Allowing for the collaboration with the natural material innovator Dr Darshill Shah, who is working to develop cutting edge biomaterials as alternatives for sectors such as construction, health care and consumer products. The cellulose fibres from the Margent farm hemp have not only created the hempcrete and hemp fibre cladding of the Margent Farm house. But Barron and Sha have been working closely to create fabrics, paper and 3D printed and biodegradable hemp plastics. Seeds are also collected to produce their delicious cooking oils and topical cbd balms and oils, formulated by Michael Isted of The Herball, these are all available to buy through their website.
Margent Farm offers a beacon of green light for the construction industry
The potential of growing and using such organic materials, that sequesters carbon and pollutants, regenerates the soil and eventually leaves no trace, is unbound. What Steve Barron has created in Cambridgeshire is testament to what we can all aspire to; from creating a regenerative farm and eco home, living off grid and care taking the environment. Barron’s mission is a radical act of guardianship, which both nourishes people and the planet, proving a greener, healthier alternative does exist. Nonetheless, in a world where access to land and money is a privilege, following suit may not seem that accessible. Yet using our imagination to ask what if and putting our heads together in collective mass, will guide us to the achievable solutions accessible to all.
Without access to land and funds, these inspiring feats can seem like the stuff of dreams. So what can we take from this as a positive motivation for change?
Our money and time is our biggest agency for system and societal change.
Supporting missions of hemp and positive change makers is one great step, but questioning how we live and spend our money is our greatest opportunity to transform the harmful systems society is in.
Help support Steve’s mission and discover their beautiful hemp creations, we love their organic cannabis balms and oils and natural dyed hemp fibre coasters and placemats. If you are lucky enough to be planning construction work, get in touch with the team for the chance to build with their beautiful hemp materials.
Hempen, old English for ‘made from hemp’ is another organic hemp farm to support. This worker cooperative also believes in the power of hemp based alternatives to solve the challenges we are all facing. We love their cold pressed CBD oils, cosmetics and hemp tea. Buy and Donate to support their cause to overgrow the hemp licencing regime today and follow their campaign for a hemp revolution.
Find more of their inspiring events and learn more about how SSAW advocates for positive and progressive ecological change in our food, floral and farming systems today.
Switch your energy provider
Do you know where your energy comes from? Make a switch to a green energy provider today to take your investment out of fossil fuels. To check how green your provider is and find alternatives look here.
To save energy at home check out this useful tips and resources from the Energy Saving Trust
Changing where your money is invested could save more carbon, and lives, than you think.
Switch Your Bank
A newly published report found that 60 of the world’s largest banks have invested $3.8 trillion into fossil fuels from 2016 to 2020. Switch It is a quick and easy resource to help you find out if you should move your money to greener more conscious banks.
Check Your Pension Fund
Do you know what your pension fund is invested in?
Buy Local And Sustainable Produce
The less air miles the better, avoid supermarkets and opt for your local food stores, markets and farm shops. Buying locally grown and produced food not only pumps money back into your local economy and independent business, but cooking from scratch and eating seasonally is more nourishing and better for our health too.
We love the work of regenerative community Wild Farmed, who prove that the quality of farm ecosystems, soil and crops is more important than industrial quantity over quality strategy, one loaf at a time. Watch their inspiring film today
Find Your Local Veg Box Scheme & Community Supported Agriculture Project
Support the growers doing the work. Is your local veg box from a nature friendly farm? Save money by volunteering at your local CSA, connect with like minded communities and share nourishing food, grown together with nature and the Earth’s seasons.
British veg box schemes are best, from your local farms to Organic companies such as Abel & Cole and Riverford Organics.
Grow Your Own
By connecting with the plant world we are able to connect to our natural environment and understand how it can nourish us. By connecting with the seasons, the soil and the earth, we can begin to slow down and listen to what is needed.
Balcony plant pots and window sill herbs are an accessible way to connect to the magic of growing your own, for garnishes, fresh teas and bath soaks alike.
Bokashi bins and wormerys are excellent tools to turn your unwanted food waste into compost and worm castings, perfect for those with no garden or just a balcony and the end product is incredibly nutrient rich, organic material that can be fed back to the earth.
For those with a garden, collecting rainwater and creating compost is an excellent way to be self-sufficient in the garden. No dig vegetable patches and raised beds are easy to establish. Stock up on organic seeds for every season from our favourites Real Seeds.
Invest in Organic
Eating organically is an investment for your health but also for the earth, as chemical free is nature friendly. Organic methods help to nourish soil health, improves biodiversity and is good for your health. But don’t stop there, try switching to buying organic products, such as toiletries, cleaning items and clothing too.
The Soil Association has lots of resources and data available to learn more about why switching to organic is an investment in the health of ourselves and the planet.
The British Beauty Council have created a Planet Positive Beauty Guide to help people make greener choices for their health and body care.